About Emerald Creek Falls
Emerald Creek Falls is an attractively tall series of cascades over large rock slabs in the Dinden West Forest Reserve near Mareeba.
The falls is said to have a cumulative drop of about 30m over its many cascades, which we managed to witness from a lookout.
There was also a separate fork of the trail leading to the plunge pool at the base of its main cascades, where we even noticed a rope swing there.
Thus, this spot offered the ability to cool off from the typically hot and humid climate of this part of Far North Queensland.
The only catch with visiting this falls and getting the full experience was that we had to earn it with a moderate 2.8km round-trip hike to both the top and bottom that was persistently uphill.
According to the trailhead signage here, the walk to the lookout was said to be Grade 3 (some hiking experience recommended) and the walk to the bottom was said to be Grade 4 (hiking experience recommended).
Although you can choose to do just one or the other, I’ll describe how we managed to do both in one go as well as why the park service rated the difficulty the way they did.
Trail Description – Hiking To The Signed Trail Fork
From the car park (see directions below), we immediately went to its end and followed the signed uphill walking track.
We quickly came to realize that this walk got hot pretty fast largely due to the fairly sparse tree cover (though when it’s humid, you’re going to sweat regardless).
At around 300m, the trail reached a signed fork (saying “Creek Access”), which was not the target trail fork that lets you choose whether to go to the lookout or the bottom of the falls.
The path on the left descended towards Emerald Creek, where I’d imagine you’d have an opportunity for a swim or to at least cool off.
We continued with the uphill hike, which became increasingly steeper and rockier the higher up we went, but it was still a pretty tame hike.
At about 300m beyond the signed spur for Emerald Creek (or 600m from the car park), we then reached a signed trail junction, and this was the decision point for how you’d want to experience Emerald Creek Falls.
Going left from this junction would descend to the bottom of Emerald Creek Falls while keeping right continued to ascend the track to the waterfall’s lookout.
We continued straight to the lookout so we could get the views first and punt the ability to “interact” (i.e. swim or wade or just chill out) with the waterfall later.
Trail Description – Hiking To The Emerald Creek Falls Lookout
So continuing on the main trail, we encountered more rock steps as the terrain continued to get more rockier though the trail remained well-defined and easy to follow.
There was some mild tree cover, but it certainly wasn’t significant enough for us to cool off, especially in light of the humidity.
In the more open spots of this part of the hike, we were able to get a teasing glimpse of the top of Emerald Creek Falls above the tree cover, which certainly encouraged us to keep going.
Eventually by about 350m beyond the signed trail junction (or about 1.1km from the car park), we finally reached the Emerald Falls Lookout, where the railings kept us back from the dropoffs.
From here, we were able to enjoy the satisfying uppermost of the cascades comprising the waterfall though it felt like there was a lot more to this waterfall than meets the eye from this vantage point.
After all, there seemed to be even more cascades and hidden drops further downstream of this lookout, but for all intents and purposes, this was the end of the line.
I did notice that there was a well-worn trail of use that kept going past the right side of the railings, and this led to a short scramble getting right besides the sloping cascade of the uppermost tier of Emerald Creek Falls.
After having our fill of this photo spot, which seemed to get its best light in the afternoon on a sunny day, we then backtracked the 350m or so to the signed trail junction to go check out the bottom of the falls.
On the way back, we enjoyed nice views towards the valley as we looked generally in the direction of Mareeba.
Trail Description – Hiking To The Emerald Creek Falls Bottom
So back at the signed trail junction, we then followed a less defined trail as it followed a rockier terrain and needed trail markers (i.e. arrows) to help keep us on track.
The rocky terrain pretty much persisted the rest of the way as the “trail” would skirt alongside Emerald Creek before crossing it over some well-placed planks.
In one shadier stretch, I noticed there was an informal trail leading away from the arrows, and it turned out that this was an alternate access to the plunge pool of Emerald Creek Falls by a rope swing.
Anyways, after crossing a pair of planks over Emerald Creek, we were then on open field of rock slabs worn smooth by water over time.
It’s this spot that could be very slippery and undoable when wet as it’s already pretty slippery when dry as when we did this hike.
Thus, I could see why the authorities rating this part of the hike as a grade 4.
There was no signage or cairns or markers to suggest that we reached the end of the trail, but it was pretty obvious that there was a short waterfall dropping into a plunge pool here.
From the fringes of the plunge pool, the upper sections of the Emerald Creek Falls that we saw earlier were concealed by the topography so it appeared way shorter than it really was.
Again, given the smooth sloping rock surfaces throughout, we had to be very careful about where we put our weight with each stop to avoid injury from a slip-and-fall.
After having our fill of this spot, we then went back the way we came for a little over 200m to regain the main trail, and then continue the remaining 600m or so mostly downhill walking back to the car park.
All things considered, Mom and I spent about 90 minutes away from the car, where my GPS logs suggested that we had walked about 2.8km in total.
It took us about 30 minutes to get up to the lookout, and another 30 minutes to get to the bottom of the falls after having gone to the lookout.
Emerald Creek Falls resides in the West Dinden Forest Reserve near Mareeba, Queensland. It is administered by the Tablelands Regional Council. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website or Facebook page.
Emerald Creek Falls sat within the West Dinden Forest Reserve, which is near the rural town of Mareeba.
However, since we were based in Cairns, this is how I’ll describe the driving directions.
So from Cairns CBD, we’d drive north on the Bruce Highway for nearly 14km to a roundabout where the first exit on the left continued the Route 1.
Then, we drove 46km on the Route 1 (which was climbing and twisty for the first 12km) towards the signed turnoff for Emerald Creek Falls on the left.
Note that this turnoff (for Tinman Creek Road) was about 11km beyond the turnoff for Davies Creek Falls.
Once on the Tinman Creek Road, we then drove 12km towards the Emerald Creek Falls car park, which seemed to have plenty of space for parking (as well as for longer vehicles like campers).
There were signs strategically placed throughout the final 12km stretch, and I believe the last 9km or so was unsealed as it followed a combination of Cobra Road and Emerald Creek Falls Road.
Overall, this drive took us on the order of about roughly 90 minutes though it could easily take longer depending on how many slower vehicles (mostly trucks) are in front.
For geographical context, Cairns is 65km (about an hour drive) east of Mareeba, 67km (over an hour drive) south of Port Douglas, 88km (under 90 minutes drive) north of Innisfail, 98km (over 90 minutes drive) northeast of Millaa Millaa, 236km (about 3 hours drive) north of Ingham, and 347km (about 4.5 hours drive) north of Townsville.
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